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Up Close on Mount LeConte

Guest post by Kristi Parsons.

Mount LeConte Lodge:

LeConteLodge1-2

At 6,593ft, In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will find a little slice of heaven. A life above the clouds. Where a tent camp once stood in 1925, now stands the Mount LeConte Lodge. In 1926, Jack Huff took over the camp and started building the lodge. However, this isn’t what Jack Huff is known for today.. Today, he is known for being one of the best sons in history. For in 1929, Jack had a custom pack built and then carried his mother – on his back to the summit of Mount LeConte. He took the Rainbow Falls trail and carried her to the top so that she could see the sunset. A sunset that she never even had the chance to see due to poor weather. This leaves you with two things to remember on your trek to LeConte. One, don’t complain too much – you could be carrying your mother. Two, do not miss the sunset at the Cliff Tops.. If anything, watch it for Jack and his Mom.

Sunset At Clifftops
Sunset At Clifftops

How can you get to LeConte?
That’s one of the best things about hiking to LeConte! You can mix and match your trails or go out and back, on the same trail. Any trail(s) that you choose, will be a beautiful and challenging journey. Below are your options and highlights of each.

Trails located in the Roaring Fork area:

Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls Trail: This is the trail that Jack carried his Mother on! You’ll find roaring waterfalls and Eastern Hemlocks – Go ahead.. Be a tree hugger! Slow down, say hello to the chipmunks and watch your step! Rainbow Falls is a green, lush and gorgeous trail that does get rockier closer to the top. Rainbow is 13.8 miles RT – but can easily be combined with Bullhead or Trillium Gap.

Tree hugging on Rainbow Falls Trail
Tree hugging on Rainbow Falls Trail

Bullhead Trail: Bullhead trail shares a parking lot with Rainbow and can easily be combined with it for a round trip. It is recommended that you do Bullhead down, especially during the summer time. You’ll pass through a Rhododendron tunnel – that’s sure to be gorgeous in June. You’ll have the chance to check out “The Pulpit”, built by the CCC in the 1930’s. Once you reach it, you’ll know that you’ve made it to the halfway point of the trail. Bullhead is 14.4 miles RT.

Trillium Trail just below LeConte
Trillium Trail just below LeConte

Trillium Gap Trail: Also known as the llama trail! If you hike Trillium on a Wednesday or a Friday, you’ll most likely pass the llama train that delivers supplies to the LeConte Lodge.. Meet them at the top and you can pet them and feed them leftover pancakes!

Jerro the Postal Llama
Jerro the Postal Llama
LeConte Llama
LeConte Llama

Trillium is also the easiest on the knees of all of the trails, with a steady climb. You’ll also pass under, yes under.. Grotto Falls . It’s the only waterfall in the park where the trail actually goes behind the falls. Cool off and carry on.. You’ll enjoy the rest of the trail with very few people, compared to the crowd that hikes in, just to see the waterfall. Trillum is 13.9 miles RT.

Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls

Want a quicker day hike? 

Alum Cave Trail: Alum Cave trail is by far the most popular way to LeConte. It’s also the shortest trail. Alum Cave offers AMAZING views! You’ll also pass Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, Gracie’s Pulpit, Peregrine Peak and the “Eye Of The Needle”.

Alum Cave Bluffs
Alum Cave Bluffs

Arrive at the trailhead early because the parking lot will fill quickly. The most important thing to remember right now? Alum Cave trail is closed during the week currently. So, be sure to plan your hike on Friday-Sunday and expect a crowd. Alum is 11 miles RT.

Looking for views and a taste of the AT?

Newfound Gap Sunrise
Newfound Gap Sunrise

Boulevard Trail: The Boulevard starts out on the Appalachian Trail at the Newfound Gap parking lot. However, don’t let the high elevation trick you – Boulevard is not the easiest of the LeConte trails. You’ll spend 2.7 miles on the AT before actually reaching the Boulevard.

The A.T. headed toward the Boulevard
The A.T. headed toward the Boulevard

At that point, if you’re quick on your feet – or staying the night at LeConte.. You could go to Charlie’s Bunion, a spot with epic views! Keep in mind though, it will add 2.6 miles to your hike.

Charlie's Bunion
Charlie’s Bunion

If you don’t want to add that to your mileage, hop on Boulevard! You’ll soon see a small marker for a side trail, that’s not maintained by the park, for the Jump Off. It’s a mile out and back and offers a gorgeous view! Continue on Boulevard and soak it up! You’ll have plenty of up and down terrain. Views on both sides, a cable trail across a landslide, passing by High Top and the option of going .2 miles to Myrtle Point – just before reaching LeConte. Boulevard is 15.6 miles RT.

The Boulevard Trail
The Boulevard Trail

There.. Now you know the 5 trails that will take you to LeConte! But…
Want to hear a secret?
There’s another way! A way less traveled… A way not listed as the “5 trails to LeConte”..
So, if you’re looking for the road less traveled and a longer hike..
Here it is: You’ll go to the Greenbrier section of the park.. Take Porters Creek Trail 1 mile in, then take Brushy Mountain Trail for 4.7 miles to the summit. Just pass that, you can hop onto Trillium Gap for the next 3.6 miles to the lodge. This way is 18.6 miles RT.

Trillium Trail
Trillium Trail

Mount LeConte Lodge – The Experience : 

First, there’s only one guarantee with visiting the lodge.. You’ll always want to come back. You won’t find electricity, telephones ringing, televisions blaring or cars rushing by. You’ll find peace, beauty, home and magic.

Once you arrive, go to the dining hall.. Take your picture in front of it with the elevation and current date posted.

LeConte Lodge Dining Hall
LeConte Lodge Dining Hall

Go on in, say hi to the staff! Grab some hot chocolate, a no-bake cookie and sit in a rocker on the front deck.. Enjoy the view, the silence. Check out the cabins and life on LeConte.

LeConte Lodge Cabins
LeConte Lodge Cabins
LeConte Lodge Office
LeConte Lodge Office

Stop in the office, read up on the history – see the moments that have made LeConte so amazing. Grab a t-shirt. Head over to the Cliff Tops that’s located .2 miles from camp.

Sunset from Cliff Tops
Sunset from Cliff Tops

If you’re staying the night – this is the place to see an unforgettable sunset. Sunrise? They say Myrtle Point. However, a staff member once told me that the most amazing spot to catch the sunrise, is on the deck of the office – while sipping on coffee. I listened and it’s a sunrise that I’ll never forget. If you’re lucky enough to stay the night, the staff will treat you like family. You’ll have a delicious family style dinner and breakfast served, by lantern light – after the dinner bell rings. You’ll be offered bottomless coffee, water, wine, hot chocolate and any advice that you need. You’ll cozy up, under wool blankets in your cozy cabin, with no concerns of being cold. The only question that you’ll have on your way down, is when you can come back.. Again and again.

LeConte Dinner by lantern
LeConte Dinner by lantern
LeConte Lodge Bed
LeConte Lodge Bed
Sunrise From the LeConte Office
Sunrise From the LeConte Office

What to pack?

Day hike:
– Basics – pack, first aid kit, rain jacket, good gear and shoes, etc.

– Water – only for the trip up, you can refill at the top – blue pumps only! You can also find hot water access on the side of the dining hall.

– Snacks

– Cash – trust me, you’re going to want a cookie! You can also purchase a bagged lunch, drinks or souvenirs in the office.

– Camera.. Never forget the camera!

Overnighter:

– Same as above.

– Snacks (only for the trip up and down – dinner and breakfast will fill you up!)

– Toiletries

– Change of clothes

– An extra bag – you’ll need to put all food items and toiletries in a bag to place inside a container in the office overnight.. Any type of bag will work, you just don’t want your items scattered inside the container with the other guests.

– Portable phone charger. There’s no electricity at the lodge and a little phone service. However, you’ll want to have a fully charged phone for pictures, the trail and you arrival to the bottom.

– You’ll be offered bottomless wine at dinner for $11.. Just remember, you do have to hike down in the morning!

** Top tip for an overnighter: Don’t over pack.. It’s really not necessary, yet – happens all of the time.

Lounging on the porch
Lounging on the porch

Written by Kristi Parsons for Rock/Creek.  All photography is property of Kristi Parsons.